It’s February and everything sucks right now, so it’s time to unwind with February Fisticuffs – a punchy look at some of the best, worst and most average boxing, kung fu and martial arts movies.
Lo Lieh’s Clan of the White Lotus, also known as Fists of the White Lotus or even Fist of the White Lotus, is often considered a sequel and/or remake of Lau Kar-leung’s Executioners from Shaolin. Depending on one’s approach, that either makes this 1980 Shaw Brothers joint a lesson in wild-ass kung fu or a plucky reusing of ground already travelled. Either way, it’s fun.
Like many kung fu films, Clan of the White Lotus contends with clashing clans. In this outing, the titular White Lotus clique takes on the Shaolin temple monks in a battle for supremacy. There is some historical context for this conflict, but Lieh’s movie is more interested in the numinous side of things.
Things begin with a reworking of the defeat of Pai Mei at the hands of Hung Wen-Ting (Gordon Liu) and his brother. The victors return home just in time for the release of the Shaolin monks from prison, but the heinous White Lotus clan ain’t having it. The priest of the clan (Lieh) wants revenge and things get bloody.
After a death or two in the family, Wen-Ting flees with his very pregnant sister-in-law Mei-Hsiao (Kara Hui) to lick his wounds. He’s hellbent on defeating the nefarious priest and learns all sorts of new brands of kung fu to do so, leading to a final showdown.
The White Lotus priest is like the legendary Pai Mei in many respects and may or may not be related to the adversary of Executioners from Shaolin, but it doesn’t matter. The villains are archetypes rather than precise conceptions, as they represent a hostile evil that flares through good things like family and loyalty.
In the case of Clan of the White Lotus, the titular group ambushes and tears apart the opposition. They lie in wait with swords. They attack women with equal measure, fighting off Wen-Ting’s love interest (Ching-Ching Yeung) as they try to massacre any residuals.
The White Lotus clan is so daunting that Liu’s character doesn’t know what to do. He learns a combination of the tiger and crane styles that conquered Pai Mei and adds a little women’s kung fu, learning the latter at the hands of the brilliant Mei-Hsiao. But it’s not enough and the White Lotus priest sends him packing.
This facing of impossible odds is a standard kung fu trick and it falls to the protagonist to learn the deadly recipe that will finally fell his foe. In this instance, Wen-Ting acquires the secret in the treatment of his wounds and turns to a ruthless and comical form of acupuncture kung fu.
The martial arts of Clan of the White Lotus are stellar, with Liu Chia-Liang’s choreography producing great sequences. The movements are sleek and fluid, plus an injection of humour coagulates the mythos of the priest’s invulnerable testicles – even after he springs nude from his tub to face the enemy.
Lieh’s effort falls into repetition as it runs through its paces and that harms it in the final analysis. The fight-train-fight pattern is clear after the first couple passes and the stakes aren’t amplified. It’s an entertaining ride for genre fans, but outsiders may wonder just how much ball-grabbing they can handle.